Friday, October 22, 2010

More on Expenses

The CWB has taken note of some of my comments about the increase in administration costs since the board of directors was installed.  Their response can be found on the CWB website at   I appreciate the CWB engaging in this discussion as it’s important for farmers to know how their money is being spent.  

The CWB response, entitled “Change costs less than doing nothing”, supposedly written by Bill Nicholson, elected-director of District 9, is a fair description of increased spending but without the detail that you’d expect from an organization that says it is open and accountable to farmers.  It includes a high level description of what the money was spent on, but with the notable omission of any financial details.

For example, Mr. Nicholson did not explain to my satisfaction why the human resource expense on a per-employee basis doubled since the board took over.  He suggests that the employment "benefits" are costing more, but I find going from $47,000 per employee to $95,000 per employee a bit extreme.  That one needs more explanation.

(Maybe it’s none of my business, but I’m left wondering why Bill Nicholson is the author on this rebuttal.  The last time they responded to something someone said that they didn’t like it was by Larry Hill, who was Chairman at the time.  Just a thought, but if it’s inappropriate for Allan Oberg, the current Chairman, to respond because he’s in the middle of running for re-election, how appropriate is it for Bill Nicholson?)

Mr. Nicholson mentions the growth in advertising spending is to communicate to farmers about new programs.  But that explanation doesn’t explain the months-long WTO-fighting campaign around the slogan “Is this the deal you want?”  I don’t know the extent of the campaign but I know it included full page ads in the Western Producer (check page 17 of the May 20 edition), some smaller ads, internet banner ads on various sites, a dedicated internet domain (, as well as dedicated pages on the CWB website ( where you can send an email postcard to the Minister of Agriculture through an automated internet system.  This all costs money too.

This campaign didn’t promote a farm program or service.  In my view, it was aimed at lobbying the federal government in an effort to protect the single desk, something expressly prohibited by a federal order-in-council. 

I know a lot of farmers wonder how much is spent on promoting the CWB itself (or deflecting criticism) as opposed to communicating farmer programs.  I’d like to see that split, too.

And $114 million on computer systems and even more in consulting to operate them?  Although they defend this spending, neither the Annual Reports nor Mr. Nicholson is clear on how much has actually been spent.  And there’s no word on how much more needs to be spent.  Any way you slice it, that’s a whole lot of money. 

(I wonder if the CWB ever thought of outsourcing some of the core activities of the CWB, not just the computer services.  There are things the CWB does that duplicate what the grain companies are already doing it, particularly in transportation.  If the CWB partnered with these companies, and had the companies perform certain logistical efforts, not only could the CWB save money and overhead, it may not need a big expensive computer system.)

Just thinking outside the bin.

I find it ironic that the CWB sees my earlier comments as an attack.  The CWB shouldn’t bristle at what was just a simple presentation of facts.  I encourage the CWB to address issues that may arise from time to time and provide even greater detail and clarity next time.   But during the directors’ elections, I would prefer to hear incumbent director-candidates defend their record.  I’d like to know what they think.

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